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How to Treat a Sunburn

By Nicole Arguien, RN with COPA Nurse Advice Line

The sun is out, the pool is full, and BBQ is fired up. As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt…by the sun. So, did you remember to put sunscreen on today? Did you smear your kids down before heading out to play? Did you check to make sure they had on their hat and sunglasses too? …Me neither. I have kids that are fair skinned and freckled so I should know better, yet 30 minutes later my kiddos were headed in from playing in the “kiddy” pool with bright red backs.

Not only does a sunburn cause pain and discomfort, but it also causes damage to our precious skin. According to John’s Hopkins Medicine, over exposure to the sun before the age of 18 causes the most damage. Children with fair skin, moles or freckles have the most risk for sun burn, and having multiple sunburns that have caused blistering increases risk of skin cancer.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation a person’s risk for melanoma doubles after a person has had more than 5 sun burns.

Enjoy the outdoors with your family, but take precautions for everyone to stay safe and comfortable. Over exposure to the sun happens to us all and here is what you need to know about sunburns.


  • Prevention is key to safety. Be sure kids are protected with a sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or higher. Consider SPF of 30 or higher for those who have fair skin. The sunscreen should also be a broad spectrum protecting against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Did you know? Water proof sunscreens stay on for about 30 min after being in the water. So be sure to reapply sunscreens at least every 3-4 hours AND after swimming.
  • Babies under the age of six months should not be exposed to the sun. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if adequate shade cannot be provided a minimal amount of sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher can be applied to small areas (face and back of hands).


  • Get cool! Either get in a cool shower, bath or apply cool compress. Avoid staying in shower too long or using a soap as that may lead to drying and irritation.
  • Moisture is your friend. Start applying right away, especially while skin is still damp. Use caution and make sure that lotion is not a petroleum or oil based. That can trap the heat and increase the severity of the burn.
  • For the next two days make ibuprofen a part of the routine. Using an NSAID with the appropriate dosing every six hours for two days after a sunburn has been found to make a great difference in pain and discomfort.
  • Hydrate! Remember that with burns fluid moves out of the body and into the skins surface. It does no good hanging out in there. So, increase fluids to replace fluids lost.
  • WARNING! If there is a burn with sever blisters covering 10% of the body this requires medical attention. Below is a picture of body percentage chart base on size for reference.
  • If you ever have any questions about treatment or severity and your child is a COPA patient, please call the COPA Nurse Advice Line at 541-389-6313. We have all their records at our fingertips and can talk with you about next steps for treatment.
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